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The Official Ubuntu Book, 8th Edition: Getting Started with Ubuntu

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This chapter shows how to start using the core features of your new Ubuntu desktop. These concepts should allow you to perform most of the day-to-day tasks when using your computer and provide a base from which to explore the other applications installed on your system.
This chapter is from the book

With Ubuntu installed and ready to go, it’s time to get started using your new operating system. Unlike other operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X, Ubuntu includes everything you need to get started: an office suite, media tools, a Web browser, an e-mail client, and more. Now that the installation is complete, you are up and running without having to install any additional software.

Different people use their computers in different ways, and every user has his or her own personal preference for look and feel. Recognizing this desire, Linux has the capability to use any of a number of different graphical interfaces. This flexibility, combined with the ballooning popularity of Linux and open source software, has resulted in literally hundreds of different graphical environments springing up, each covering these different types of users and ways of working.

Even though there is a huge range of environments available, there are two clear leaders: KDE and GNOME. Both of these environments provide a good-looking, comprehensive, and easy-to-use desktop, but they differ in how that desktop is used as well as in how further personalization can take place.

The KDE system aims for complete control and configurability of the desktop. Any desktop configuration options that exist are available to the user, who has easy access and can change the behavior and look of almost everything.

The competing GNOME desktop takes its inspiration from both Windows and Mac OS X and sets a priority on simplicity and ease of use. GNOME is also easy to customize, but the less common options are either eliminated or well hidden to prevent user overload.

Ubuntu users are blessed with the choice of either desktop, along with several other options. Many of these environments are mentioned in Chapter 9.

The Ubuntu desktop is called Unity. The intention behind Unity was to create a user interface that would be similar in design terms between different devices: desktop, phone, tablet, and TV. This will help with the ultimate purpose of Ubuntu—that is, achieving convergence between all of these devices.

In this chapter, we help you get started with Unity, the default desktop for Ubuntu, and show how you can use it to do the normal things you face every day with your computer and a few not-so-normal things. This includes opening and running applications, managing your files, adjusting the look and feel, using applications, managing your media, and more.

Getting Acquainted with Unity

When you start your Ubuntu system, you are presented with a list of users. Once you select your name from the list, you are asked for a password to log in with. In the last chapter, you specified a user account when installing the system, so use that account to log in. First select your name, and then type your password and press Enter. Your password will appear as a series of asterisks (*). This is a security feature.

After a few seconds you will see the Ubuntu desktop appear. Your desktop will look like Figure 3-1.

Figure 3-1

Figure 3-1 Ubuntu Unity

You may have noticed that, unlike with other operating systems, there are no icons on the Unity desktop. The reason for this is that desktop icons typically are presented by applications, and, as such, you can’t get at them.

Finding and Running Applications with the Launcher

To find or run an application, you use the Launcher. The Launcher sits on the left of the screen. This icon bar shows icon links for applications and indicates with a small arrow which applications are currently open. The Launcher also has a few other handy features.

To find an application in Unity, click the Ubuntu logo at the top of the Launcher at the left side of the desktop (Figure 3-2).

Figure 3-2

Figure 3-2 The Unity Launcher with the Ubuntu logo at the top

This opens the Dash, which is the main method for finding programs, folders, and files on your computer, as well as many other things such as music files, videos, or Wikipedia articles and other online sources. At the bottom of the Dash is a row of icons called Lenses. Each Lens helps you focus your search in a different way. Any time the Dash is open, you can begin to type the name of a program, folder, or file, and it will automatically search for matches as you type (Figure 3-3). You don’t even have to know the exact name because the search also looks for near matches and similar names; it even does some semantic matching by searching program descriptions and some file contents.

Figure 3-3

Figure 3-3 The Dash with sorted results from a partial search

Some of the Dash Lenses include predefined filters to further narrow your search (Figure 3-4). Click Filter Results at the upper right of the Dash Lens to view the available filters.

Figure 3-4

Figure 3-4 The Dash Applications Lens with Filter Results shown

Other Lenses are available beyond those installed by default. Later in this chapter, you will learn how to use the Ubuntu Software Center. You can find additional Lenses there by searching with the terms unity lens.

Other Icons in the Launcher

In addition to the Ubuntu logo icon described earlier, the Launcher includes several useful entries by default. Most are obvious in their intent and use. Even so, they deserve a quick mention. They are listed here in the order they appear in the Launcher from top to bottom, albeit skipping some more obvious entries.

  • Home Folder: This icon opens your home folder using the file manager, which is described next. Your home folder is where all of your personal files and folders should be placed.
  • Ubuntu Software Center: This icon opens your primary software management system for Ubuntu, which is described later in the chapter.
  • Workplace Switcher: Once enabled, this tool allows you to have four different screens open on your desktop, with different programs active in each, and switch between them. This feature is very helpful if you tend to have many things open at once and run out of space on your screen. Click it to show all of your desktop workspaces (it also shows you what is open in each, which is convenient). As an example, you may be using your Web browser and e-mail client while talking to your friends in a chat client on the first desktop and working on a document on the second desktop. You can just click each virtual desktop to switch to it to access your different applications. Click the desktop you want to use. Essentially, this expands the screen real estate you have available and creates an easy way to keep many programs open without their blocking one another. To enable workspaces on your system, go to the Dash and search for Appearance. On the behavior tab, click the checkbox for Enable Workspaces.
  • Trash: This is where files you throw away go until you empty the Trash to remove them permanently. Files dragged onto this icon or right-clicked and moved to trash are destined to be deleted. To fully delete these files, right-click the Trash and select Empty Trash.

Using Applications

When applications are loaded, the window border has three buttons on the top on the left-hand side:

  • Orange button with a black X: This button closes the application.
  • Gray button with a black –: This button minimizes the application, taking it off of your screen, and puts it in the Launcher for easy access when you need it again.
  • Gray button with a black square: This button is used to maximize the window so that it takes up the full desktop area. Not all application windows use this button, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see it for an application that has a small window.

Every application that is currently in use has an entry in the Launcher on the left of the desktop. You can click these entries to minimize or restore the application, and you can right-click to see some other options, such as one to keep the program icon listed in the Launcher at all times. This is available so that you simply need to click the icon to start the program rather than search for it in the Dash, which makes it convenient for frequently used programs.

Any menus with options that exist for a program currently in use in the foreground will appear in the top panel of the desktop. When you switch programs, the contents of the top panel will change accordingly. Hover over the name of the program at the top of a screen and wait for a list of menus to appear. Click any one to see a drop-down list of options.

Managing Files and Folders

When using your computer, you often need to open and save files and folders, move them around, and perform other tasks. Click the Home Folder icon from the Launcher to open the file manager. Here are some of the main folders you will find contained in your home folder by default (Figure 3-5):

  • Desktop: This folder contains files that visually appear on your desktop as icons. If you drag a file onto your desktop, it appears in the Desktop folder. Similarly, moving a file out of this folder or deleting it removes it from your desktop.
  • Documents: This folder is intended to contain word processing files and other documents you create.
  • Downloads: This folder is intended to contain items you download from the Internet.
  • Music: This folder is intended to contain music files.

    Figure 3-5

    Figure 3-5 The main file manager window, open to the home folder

  • Pictures: This folder is intended to contain image files.
  • Public: This folder holds files that you want other users on your system or network to be able to access. The permissions on this folder are set differently, as by default all the other folders and their contents may be accessed and opened only by you.
  • Templates: This folder is intended to contain templates for applications like your word processor.
  • Videos: This folder is intended to contain visual media files.

To the left of the file manager is a menu with several options. Most are repeats of commonly used folders listed previously. These deserve further mention:

  • Browse Network: This option accesses all networked and shared devices, such as file servers or printers, that are available on your local network. This is the equivalent of the Network Neighborhood or Network Places in various versions of Windows.
  • Computer: This option allows you to browse the other files and folders on your system that are not contained in your home folder and that you have permission to view.
  • Trash: This is where files you throw away go, until you empty the Trash to remove them permanently.

Connect to Server is an option available in the file manager from the File menu that is accessed by hovering over the words “Home Folder” at the top of the screen when the application is open. Click Connect to Server to run a wizard to create a connection to a network server; you will need to know the name of the server you want to connect to, and some details about it like the port being used. Use this feature to add an icon to the desktop that, when clicked, provides a list of remote files in the desktop file manager. You can then treat this window like any other file manager window and drag files back and forth. This is really useful for copying files to and from other computers.

Adding Additional Users

Many computers these days are used by more than one person. Rather than forcing everyone to use the same desktop settings or making the computer less secure by allowing everyone who uses it to have access to administrative functions, it is easy and recommended to create an account for every person who will use the computer. This allows each user to customize how the computer works and looks without interfering with anyone else’s preferences, and it allows you to grant administrator privileges to only certain users to prevent others from accessing functions that may affect everyone or even damage the installation if used incorrectly.

Open the Dash and search for User Accounts. The dialog box that appears contains a list of current users. Click Unlock at the upper-right corner of the window to make changes. Next click the “+” symbol at the bottom of the user list or Add to create a new account, as in Figure 3-6.

Figure 3-6

Figure 3-6 The User Settings dialog

You must now provide a full name for the new user and a short username that will be used by that user to log in. Click OK, and in the next dialog box, enter a password for that user, confirm the password by entering it a second time, and click OK again.

Once your user account is created, you may customize your login options and click the Password field to set a password, allow the user to log in without a password, or enable the account without setting a password. Allowing a user to log in without a password or automatically is not generally a good idea but can be useful. For example, if the users are small children who are not expected to perform administrative tasks, the children could have an account that automatically logs in at boot time, and the administrator would have an additional account, accessed by a password, to perform changes and updates when necessary.

Finally, now that the account is created, you can customize its settings. To do so, highlight the account name in the list, and click the field at the right next to Account Type.

If you prefer to do this from the terminal, use the adduser command while logged in to an account with administrative privileges:

matt@laptop:~$ sudo adduser corey

After you enter your password, this command will add a new user named corey. You will be asked several questions in this process. Answer them, and at the end, the account will be created.

To delete a user from the command line, use the deluser command in place of adduser in the preceding example. You will learn more about dealing with users from the command line in Chapter 7.

The Notification Area

On the right-hand side of the top of the desktop is the notification area and the clock. The notification area is similar to the Windows system tray in that it provides a series of small icons that indicate something specific. A good example of this is Network Manager, which looks after your network connections—both wired and wireless—for you.

You can adjust the notification area items by right-clicking them to view a context menu. Some icons (such as the volume control) allow you to left- click on them to view them. As an example, try clicking the little speaker icon and adjusting the slider.

Network Manager

Network Manager is a network interface that helps you manage your network devices and connections; it is accessed using the network manager applet. The goal is to make networking “just work” easily and without requiring users to know how to hand-configure the settings (although that functionality is still available for those who want to do so). A left-click of the mouse on the applet shows you the dialog box and enables quick changes between network types. It even provides an easy way to set up access through a virtual private network (VPN), such as many of us are required to use to securely access files from work or school. You can also enable or disable both wired and wireless networking, see information about your current connection, and edit connections quickly and easily (Figure 3-7).

Figure 3-7

Figure 3-7 The Network Manager applet, left-clicked to show connections menu

Next to the notification area is the clock. Click on the clock to view a calendar.

The Gear Menu

Click the Gear at the top right of the screen to access these options (Figure 3-8):

  • About This Computer: This button displays a window that provides information about your computer, such as the Ubuntu version it runs, its RAM size, processor, OS type, and more.
  • Ubuntu Help: Here you will find the Ubuntu Desktop Guide, which provides help guides for most system applications.
  • System Settings: This option opens a window from which you can adjust your computer according to your needs or preferences. Options include Keyboard Layouts, Screen and Display settings, Printers, Power, Sound, and much more.
  • Lock: This option locks the screen, which is useful when you need to use the bathroom or grab some lunch. It locks the computer and asks for your password to reenable the desktop.
  • User Accounts: Here you can switch which user account you can use, without logging out of your current user. You can also initiate a Guest Session, which is a limited account with permissions that allow the user to do simple things like access the Internet—perfect for when a friend stops by and asks to check her e-mail.

    Figure 3-8

    Figure 3-8 Ahh, the possibilities . . .

  • Log Out: This option lets you log out of the current session and go back to the main login screen.
  • Suspend: If your computer supports it, this option will be included in the list, and you can click it to save the current state of your system in RAM. Then, the next time your computer is turned on, the desktop session will be resumed at the point where you left off. This option continues to use power, but only a minimal amount.
  • Restart: Click this to restart your computer.
  • Shut Down: Click this to shut down your computer.
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